About Creating Commons

Creating Commons is a research project conducted by Felix Stalder, Cornelia Sollfrank and Shusha Niederberger between early 2017 and late 2020. It focused on 15 durational (post-)digital artistic projects with a “double character”. On the one hand they all act discursively-symbolically, on the other hand infrastructurally-functionally. They theorize and practice “free resources,” such as digital archives, technical infrastructures, local spaces, and educational institutions. In doing so, they raise fundamental art-theoretical and social science questions, which we explored from the point of view of the “commons.” It was important to us not to research about these projects, but to determine and negotiate central questions with and through them, and to assume a dual character as a research project itself, that is, on the one hand to communicate research results discursively, and on the other hand to create resources with which others can continue to work independently.

Interface Commons/Art

Commons – resources maintained for common use – represent a comprehensive alternative to an order built on private property. Their defining relationship is not individual ownership/control, but collaborative care. Who belongs to the commons and to what ends this care is directed – growth, preservation, transformation – essentially determines the character of the commons. From an art theoretical perspective, they raise questions about the role of the author, the boundaries of the work, the relationship between productive and reproductive labor, and many more. From this perspective, commons projects can be understood as a form of institutional critique, although their critique is only indirectly directed at existing institutions and is primarily articulated through an instituting practice.

“Research Meetings” as Method

The central methodological element of the project was “research meetings“, physical gathering over several days with the artists and theorists to define and jointly reflect on the questions emerging from the projects. We did not assume that we as researchers knew more than the artists involved, but the goal was to create a common space for horizontal exchange and learning.

Video interviews were conducted with all participating artists and recorded in high quality. These interviews had two goals. On the one hand, to give the artists the opportunity to present in a compact form their often very dispersed, long-term and process-oriented projects and to reflect on them along an interview guide we had created. On the other hand, we also generated material that we and others can further work with. For this purpose, the interviews were put on the project website under a free license. In a way not atypical for (digital) commons, these interviews were end product and raw material at the same time.

Collaborative outputs: Website, Exhibition, and Book

The research project has generated three major outputs, in addition to a number of small publications, lectures, and exhibition participations. First, the website where we documented the process from start to finish and served as a central archive for the shared materials. Accordingly, we took care to ensure long-term archivability from the beginning. Second, an exhibition at the Panke Gallery in Berlin (Sept/Oct, 2019), in which we developed “scores” together with the artists, which on the one hand translated the process-oriented projects into the exhibition space, and on the other hand preserved the dual character of the project as symbolic-discursive but also as action-oriented. A comprehensive catalog was also produced for the exhibition. Thirdly, theoreticians were invited to work on a joint book: Aesthetics of the Commons (Diaphanes, 2021). Each of them was asked to reflect on the projects and their potential from his or her own perspective, based on the interviews that were made available to the authors. This resulted in a collection of very independent texts, which, however, repeatedly enter into dialogue with each other through the multiple references to projects and stand in a tension between polyphony and focus.

The research project was located at the Institute for Contemporary Art Research, Zurich University of the Arts, financed by the Swiss National Science Foundation (grant: # 100016_169419) and was conducted in cooperation with HeK (House of Electronic Arts Basel) and Panke Gallery, Berlin


Zürcher Hochschule der Künste
Institute for Contemporary Arts Research
Felix Stalder
Toni-Areal, Pfingstweidstrasse 96
CH-8031 Zürich

Tel. +41 (0) 43 446 61 01